The arrival of September officially marks the arrival of the back to school season. The start of a “new year” affords us the opportunity to create brand new communities in our classrooms and studios. So often, we are tempted to immediately jump into technique and choreography, but taking time for team-building exercises and community building can help create a pleasant, enjoyable experience for all throughout the year. I like to spend the first six weeks of the new dance season opening class with a fun introduction game. These games allow me to get to know the students – not only basic things like their names, ages, and some of the things they like outside of the studio, but also how they respond to new situations and deal with challenges. Just as importantly, they give the students a chance to get to know one another and develop friendships. These games provide a quick and easy way to get your students warmed up and ready to dance physically, mentally, and emotionally, while creating a fun and cohesive class environment.
For all of these activities, I recommend positioning the students in a circle. This is the most democratic spatial arrangement, creating equality among all students. While they create their movement, I allow them to turn their back to the circle so that they are not distracted by their peers or concerned about what others think. If they need more space to work, I direct them them to find their own place in the room after giving the instructions and an example. They then return to the circle after their work time to perform their movements for one another. Sharing as a group enables me to see their reaction to creating original movement or performing for an audience, which gives me some insight into the support they might need throughout the season. Watching one another, especially with the expectation of being a respectful audience, reinforces the idea that all voices are important and valued. After watching each other’s movement, I often ask students to repeat what their peers have done. This can help in the development of empathy, as students “try on” another’s movement style and experience another perspective through movement. It also keeps the class moving and gets them nice and warm!
1.) Body-writing – Each student uses different a different body part or combination of body parts to write their name on the floor or in the space around them. This is a great one to out start with, as you can provide as much direction as students need to feel comfortable. It can also be easily modified for novice through advanced dancers. You can have the entire class use the same body part to write their names in the same spatial plane, or give them a choice of a few body parts, or allow them “free reign” to be as creative as they’d like! As they become comfortable with the activity, encourage them to “smooth out” the transitions and connect the letters to make a seamless dance phrase.
- To turn this into a collaborative activity, have students combine some or all of the letters of their names to spell out a new word and dance phrase!
2.) Initial Freeze Dance – Allow students to play freeze dance, but they “freeze” in the shape of one of the letters of their name. You can direct the students to make their shape on the high, middle, or low level.
- To turn this into a collaborative activity, have one group of students stay frozen, while the others dance around them, exploring different spatial relationships.
3.) Action Dances – Ask students to choose something they like to do outside of the studio. Direct them to perform an action that represents this activity. Provide simple choreographic directions to help your students transform these basic actions into abstract dance movements. For example, they can utilize repetition, variation, inversion, or changes in level, rhythm, or tempo.
- To engage students further while watching one another’s dances, have them guess what the performing dancer is doing.
- To turn this into a collaborative activity, have students work together to create a duet based on a common interest, or combine all of the movements into one long phrase. (You may need to help with the transitions!)
4.) Emotion Check-In – Before class starts, ask students to create a shape inspired by how they are feeling at that movement. Repeat this exercise after class, reflecting on how their mood may have changed while dancing. Help them create a transitional movement between each shape to make a simple dance.
- To engage students further while watching one another’s dances, have them guess what the performing dancer is feeling.
- To turn this into a collaborative activity, have small groups of students perform their dances at the same time, applying different choreographic devices such as changing the formation, or the dancers’ relationships (looking at one another, in front and behind, etc.), or playing with the timing through use of cannons, etc.
5.) Age Phrase – Ask students to create a phrase of movement with a duration based on their age. For example, a 9 year old would make a 9-count phrase. You can personalize this further by directing the students to create the movements in their phrase based on their favorite book, or something they learned in school that week.
- To turn this into a collaborative activity, have a small group of dancers combine their ages to determine the number of counts in their dance. Direct them to create their movement based on a shared interest.